Common Thread: Albums from Musical Offspring (Part 1)

by Jeff Fiedler

Common Thread is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which we offer up mini-reviews of a small (and often very diverse) assortment of albums that all have one specific shared trait; that "common thread" can vary from column to column. 

It’s not surprising that many pop stars have had musical children who went on to be pop stars themselves. Frank Sinatra’s daughter, Nancy, for instance, was a frequent sighting on the Top 40 in the late ‘60s with such hits as the Number One smash “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” “Sugar Town,” “How Does That Grab You, Darlin’?,” and her chart-topping duet with her famous father, “Somethin’ Stupid.” ‘50s pop star Pat Boone’s daughter, Debby, would score the longest-running Number One hit of the ‘70s with the inspirational ballad “You Light Up My Life.” Nat “King” Cole’s daughter, Natalie, of course, would score an impressive run of hits that spanned three decades, from the still-ubiquitous 1975 smash “This Will Be” to her multiple-Grammy-winning 1992 cover of her father’s timeless ballad “Unforgettable.” Early-‘90s pop darlings Wilson Phillips consisted of THREE musical offspring: Carnie and Wendy Wilson, the daughters of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, and Chynna Phillips, the daughter of John and Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas. But they’re just a small sampling of musical offspring who have hit the charts themselves, and there are others that are simply not as well-known or who you may not even realize have famous parents, like these …

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Gee Whiz, Carla Thomas (1961, Atlantic)

Carla’s very first hit remains both her best and her most famous: “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes),” featured on this disc, would make the Top Ten pop charts and reach the Top 40 twice more in the form of covers from pop vocal group The Innocents and actress/singer Bernadette Peters of The Jerk fame. Carla would later sign to Stax and go on to have several more hits – including 1966’s “B-A-B-Y” and two duets with Otis Redding (“Tramp” and “Knock on Wood”) – but she’s not the only one in her family with four Top 40 hits to her name, nor is she the only one in her family who’s even been a Stax recording artist!: her father, Rufus Thomas, also coincidentally reached the Top 40 exactly four times, most famously with the dancefloor classic “Walking the Dog.”

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I’m a Fool, Dino, Desi & Billy (1965, Reprise)

Actually, there’s more than one just celebrity offspring in this pop trio: “Desi” is Desi Arnaz, Jr., the son of I Love Lucy stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (he’d later co-star with his famous mother in Here’s Lucy from 1968 to 1974), while “Dino” is Dino Martin, the son of the legendary Dean Martin. The band’s success was short-lived, but during their brief existence, they reached the Top 40 twice: the title cut of this disc reached #17, while “Not the Lovin’ Kind” – also from this album – reached #25. Dino would later go on to marry actress Olivia Hussey of Romeo & Juliet fame and Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill, while the trio’s third member, Billy Hinsche, would go on to do extensive session work with the Beach Boys. (Fun trivia: Hinsche’s sister Annie would later marry Beach Boy Carl Wilson!)  

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A Session with Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Gary Lewis & the Playboys (1965, Liberty)

Lewis – the son of legendary comedian and actor Jerry Lewis, who himself had reached the Top Ten in 1956 with “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” – may not have had the best pipes, but with the aid of producer Snuff Garrett and the legendary Wrecking Crew, this outfit became one of the greatest  and most successful singles acts of the mid-‘60s, racking up an astounding nine Top 40 hits – seven of them Top Ten smashes – in 1965 and 1966 alone! The group’s momentum was halted in a major way after Lewis got drafted by the military, and the band never quite commercially recovered from the interruption, though they’d return to the Top Twenty in 1968 with a cover of Brian Hyland’s “Sealed with a Kiss,” which would prove to be their last Top 40 hit. The band’s biggest hit is their first single, the Number One hit “This Diamond Ring,” but this disc boasts what’s arguably their two finest singles of all, the bouncy, cascading piano pop of “Count Me In” and the whistle-worthy summertime-themed “Save Your Heart for Me.”

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Hey Little Cobra and Other Hot Rod Hits, The Rip Chords (1964, Columbia)

This pop combo, best known for the car-themed Top Ten smash that gives this full-length its name (fittingly, the group’s only other Top 40 hit, “Three Window Coupe,” is also hot-rod-related), is notable for being an early training grounds for future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston. Less well-known is the fact that Terry Melcher – later the producer for The Byrds and Paul Revere and the Raiders (he’d also both co-write and produce the Beach Boys’ 1988 comeback hit “Kokomo”) – also got his first big break in this band. Melcher’s not the only musical talent in his family – his mom is the legendary actress/singer Doris Day, whose run of hit singles in the ‘50s for Columbia includes the Oscar-winning theme from the Alfred Hitchcock classic The Man Who Knew Too Much, “Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera).”  

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Chanson, Chanson (1978, Ariola America)

This R&B duo nearly cracked the Top Twenty with this album’s lead-off cut “Don’t Hold Back.” If you enjoy the bass work on this album, there’s a good reason for that: one of the two members of Chanson is James Jamerson, Jr., the son of legendary session bassist James Jamerson, who, as one of the uncredited “Funk Brothers” employed by Motown in the ‘60s, helped provide the rhythm work on most of the hit singles that came out of “Hitsville, U.S.A.” at the label’s peak.

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The Son of Rock and Roll, Rocky Burnette (1980, EMI)

The title of this disc might sound boastful at first glance, but it’s not all that much of an exaggeration. Rocky has not just one but two rockabilly legends in his family: his uncle Dorsey (best known for his 1960 hit “(There Was a) Tall Oak Tree”) and his father Johnny, a regular presence on the Top Twenty throughout 1960 and 1961 with such hits as “You’re Sixteen” (later to be covered – and made a Number One hit – by Ringo Starr). [As if that weren’t enough musical talent in one family, his cousin Billy would later go on to replace Lindsey Buckingham in Fleetwood Mac in time to serve as a full-time member on the band’s last Top 40 hit to date, 1990’s “Save Me,” and provide the band with the criminally overlooked rockabilly-tinged album cut “When the Sun Goes Down.”] Rocky was no slouch himself, scoring a Top Ten single in 1980 with this album’s infectious single “Tired of Toein’ the Line.”

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Take Me to Your Heaven, Stevie Woods (1981, Cotillion)

He’s sadly long-forgotten today, but Woods briefly made a splash in the early ‘80s with his easygoing brand of R&B and scored a pair of Top 40 hits with “Steal the Night” and “Just Can’t Win ‘em All,” both of which can be found on this appealing disc. He’s not the first notable musical talent to come out of his family: his dad is saxophonist and jazz great Rusty Bryant!  

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Ta Mara and the Seen, Ta Mara and the Seen (1985, A&M)

This short-lived, heavily Prince-influenced electro-funk outfit has just one Top 40 hit to their credit, “Everybody Dance,” the opening cut on this self-titled debut, produced, fittingly enough, by The Time’s Jesse Johnson. But their musical legacy is farther-reaching than just that one song: guitarist Oliver Leiber would go on to write and produce the massive Paula Abdul hits “(It’s Just) The Way That You Love Me,” “Opposites Attract,” and “Forever Your Girl.” It should be no surprise that Oliver knows how to write hits: his dad is Jerry Leiber, who, with partner Mike Stoller, is responsible for writing and producing such ‘50s and early ‘60s classics as Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City,” the Coasters’ “Young Blood,” “Yakety Yak,” “Poison Ivy,” “Searchin’,” and “Charlie Brown,” Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock,” “Treat Me Nice,” “Love Me,” and “Don’t,” the Drifters’ “On Broadway,” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” just to name a small handful of a very massive number of hits penned by this legendary duo.  

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Fahrenheit, Toto (1987, Columbia)

You may be wondering what a Toto album is even doing on this list, but beginning with this excellent soft-rock platter, which yielded the hit ballads “I’ll Be Over You” (featuring backing vocals from Michael McDonald) and “Without Your Love” and also sports cameos from both Don Henley and even jazz legend Miles Davis, the band’s lead singer role (previously occupied by Bobby Kimball and the short-lived Fergie Frederiksen) was taken over by Joseph Williams, whose father is the legendary conductor and composer John Williams – yes, the same John Williams responsible for giving us the themes to such blockbuster movies as Star Wars, Jaws, and Jurassic Park!

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The Big Throwdown, LeVert (1987, Atlantic)

This R&B trio gave us one of the sunniest and most infectious singles of 1987 with their Top Five smash “Casanova.” It sadly turned out to be their only song to cross over into the pop Top 40, but little mind: Gerald Levert would go on to be a solo star in the ‘90s with such R&B and pop hits as “I’d Give Anything,” “Thinkin’ ‘Bout It,” and “Taking Everything” and would serve as one-third of the R&B supergroup LSG (alongside Keith Sweat and Johnny Gill), who’d both reach the Top Five and top the R&B survey for seven weeks with “My Body.” Gerald, who sadly died of heart failure in 2006, wasn’t even the biggest R&B legend in his own family: both he and his brother (and LeVert bandmate) Sean were the sons of Eddie Levert, the longtime lead singer of the O’Jays! 

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Brenda K. Starr, Brenda K. Starr (1987, MCA)

Unfortunately, Starr’s place in musical history has been overshadowed by the success of one of her former backup singers, Mariah Carey, but Starr did score two sizable pop crossover hits in 1988 with “What You See Is What You Get” and the enduring ballad “I Still Believe,” later covered by Carey herself. Starr’s talent was surely genetic: her dad was Harvey Kaplan (aka Harvey Kaye), the organist for the band Spiral Starecase, who gave us one of the most irresistibly sunny 45s of the late ‘60s with their horn-heavy stomper “More Today Than Yesterday.”